“Himmler diaries found in Russia reveal daily Nazi horrors” – BBC News

“Chilling details emerge about the daily life of Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi SS chief who sent millions of Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust.” This is an important find.

It’s hard to believe that these dairies will expose even more hideous crimes committed by Himmler (although it is possible). But their main value lies in the hope that they will help shed light on one of the world’s most revolting crimes against humanity.

Source: Himmler diaries found in Russia reveal daily Nazi horrors – BBC News

“How the Vatican Can Shed Light on the Holocaust” – The New York Times

“The Vatican has refused to open all of its World War II archives. Pope Francis’ visit to Auschwitz on Friday is the perfect moment to change policy.”

The Vatican is most likely reluctant to open the archives out of a desire to protect the image of the Catholic Church, which is understandable but misguided. The appearance of secrecy does nothing to help their image. At least if they give historians access to the WWII documents we can learn the truth and potentially undermine some of the most outrageous conspiracy theories.

Source: How the Vatican Can Shed Light on the Holocaust – The New York Times

Book Review: “A Different Guernica” by John Richardson | The New York Review of Books

Art is at its best when it sends a powerful message, and this is exactly what Picasso’s famous Guernica painting does. The painting shocks and disturbs us, even when we don’t know the story behind it. It conveys a message of death, destruction, and a world gone mad. What horrible event could have provoked Picasso to paint such a disturbing scene?

The year was 1937. The Spanish Civil War was in full swing and General Franco, leader of the Nationalist forces, had powerful allies: Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. The war proved useful to the Nazis. It provided them with an opportunity to test new technologies and strategies of warfare. It was in pursuit of this goal that the Luftwaffe bombed the Basque town of Guernica. The goal was to break the morale of the people. It was psychological warfare against civilian populations.

Morale bombing was the brain child of the Italian General Giulio Douhet, whose influential The Command of the Air (1921) argued in favor of targeting civilian populations who  were assumed to be weak and would therefore if bombed would press their leaders to end the war, thus saving lives.

The strategy was based on a flawed assumption (civil populations are weak) and never lived up to its promise (an experiment that cost the lives of millions of civilians). But in 1937, Hitler was so enamored by its “successful” implementation in Guernica that he recommended its use on Poland two years later. This strategy was implemented not just by the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, but also by the Allies during WWII.

While Picasso’s painting  is about a single event in Guernica, it has since taken on a much more significant role as an indictment of all war crimes and atrocities. For this reason, a replica of it is prominently placed  at the UN headquarters outside the Security Council chambers. Here it finds itself frequently the backdrop for press statements. As a result, it had to be covered up during a press conference in 2003. Collen Powell was set to speak about the war in Iraq. The message was inconvenient!

Read Richardson’s review of Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre by Xabier Irujo here: A Different Guernica by John Richardson | The New York Review of Books

“Not Everything Is Munich and Hitler” | The National Interest

David A. Bell writes a much-needed rebuke against the popular tendency to compare everything with World War II and Hitler. As he explains, “Comparing modern threats with World War II is neocon nonsense.” It may seem like harmless drama, but this kind of hyperbole has real consequences. As Bell points out, “References that were already misleading a generation ago have become dangerously absurd. The putative lessons of history have become imprisoning, rather than enabling. In this sense, we really do suffer from an excess of it.”

His discussion of the Munich lesson is particularly noteworthy.  “Ever since, it has been de rigueur for Americans to justify action against alleged foreign threats with Hitler analogies, and to denounce the alleged appeasement of such threats with Munich analogies. Sometimes, the comparisons have been laughably inappropriate.” We see almost all foreign events through this lens and it has made us particularly war prone. We have come to see violence (or the threat of violence) as the most effective tool of foreign policy.

To read the other dangers posed by using inappropriate WWII analogies go here: Not Everything Is Munich and Hitler | The National Interest

In conclusion Bell writes, “But it can still help if as many people as possible take the time to remember just how false the comparison actually is, and if they keep in mind that a keen sensitivity to the parallels between the past and the present is not always a good thing. When it comes to the moral lessons of the terrible years the world lived through between 1939 and 1945, particularly those of the Holocaust, we must always remember. But when it comes to the strategic lessons of that era, we might do well, sometimes, to forget.”

I agree with Bell’s overall analysis, but I have to disagree with his solution: forget history. The problem is a result of superficial knowledge, bad analogies, and a desire to inflate the importance of one’s own issues by associating them with extreme examples (Hitler, genocide, slavery, etc.).


” Polish leaders threaten fate of nearly finished WWII museum” – Daily Reflector

The Museum of the Second World War may be a casualty of Poland’s rightward turn. Only a Polish-centered museum will do for this nationalist government. This would be unfortunate. As the historian Timothy Snyder points out, “the government’s concept of a museum focusing solely on Westerplatte and Poland’s military struggle in 1939 would result in a narrowly focused exhibit that would not appeal to a wider international audience.”

Read the entire story here: – Daily Reflector

“World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle” – The New York Times

“It’s the centennial of Verdun. But what exactly are we commemorating?”

Paul Jankowski ‘s answer: “To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.”

I don’t disagree with that, but I think the commemoration of Verdun offers an opportunity for all of us (not just historians) to contemplate war itself. Too often war is glorified, Verdun should be a reminder of the horrors of war. It should make us think deeply about how, when, and why we fight wars.

To read Jankowski’s entire article go here: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times

“Why Most Everyone Gets Munich Wrong” | History News Network

The “Munich lesson” that we should never appease evil has to be one of the most pervasive and incorrect lessons of history. In this HNN post, John Kelly explains why the lesson is wrong. And as John Kelly points out, “millions of Americans who know nothing about the Munich Conference or the Sudetenland know that evil appeased is evil emboldened because American presidents have evoked the Munich lesson to justify almost every U. S. military action since 1945.”

The lesson is flawed in both its understanding of the events in Munich and in its application to events that bear no resemblance to the unique circumstances of 1938 Nazi Germany. As Kelly explains: “It is a fantasy to imagine that, had Churchill rather than Chamberlain been sitting across the table at Munich, Hitler would have been deterred. Unafraid of war and boundlessly ambitious, Hitler was that most dangerous of leaders, a man who could neither be appeased nor deterred by threats of force.”

It will take more than one article to debunk the “appeasement” foreign policy reasoning, but its a start. We historians need to call out this kind of abuse of history, especially when a misguided history lesson is driving us to make bad foreign policy choices.

Read Kelly’s entire article here: History News Network | Why Most Everyone Gets Munich Wrong

“Coming to Terms on Japan’s Wartime Sex Slaves” – The New York Times

“Prime Minister Abe now says he is genuinely sorry for Japan’s terrible abuse of South Korea’s “comfort women” before and during World War II.” This is a surprising, but great turn of events! Abe surely didn’t do it for the right reasons, but at least he did it!

Source: Coming to Terms on Japan’s Wartime Sex Slaves – The New York Times

“Pearl Harbor ceremony unites former U.S. and Japanese pilots” – Yahoo News

This is a wonderful story on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: “By Karin Stanton HONOLULU (Reuters) – Former U.S. airman Jack DeTour, 92, and Japanese fighter pilot Shiro Wakita, 88, sworn enemies during World War Two, together poured whiskey from a battered canteen into Pearl Harbor on Sunday to commemorate the 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base. As the sun rose over the USS Arizona Memorial, the two former enemy pilots joined the “Blackened Canteen” service on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack, which took 2,403 lives and drew the United States into World War Two. Standing side by side after meeting for the first time ever, retired Air Force Colonel DeTour and former Imperial Japanese Navy Zero Pilot Wakita together gripped the war-torn U.S. military-issue metal canteen and poured whiskey into the watery grave of the U.S. Navy ship sunk by Japanese bombers.”

Source: Pearl Harbor ceremony unites former U.S. and Japanese pilots – Yahoo News